What Makes Insurgents Tick?

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Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images

Taliban fighters stand with their weapons as they hold the Koran, the Muslim holy book, after joining Afghan government forces in Herat on Monday

It’s not – surprise! – what you think:

…We see insurgency as a form of collective, goal-focused activity that comes about when nefarious people exploit the weaknesses of a political system…And since insurgency is political, so too are its solutions: strengthen the state so it can address grievances and assert control over all of the national territory.  The improved state can then return to its mission of reconciling competing interests, priorities, and objectives.

writes Steven Metz of the Army War College in Small Wars Journal.

But that’s wrong, he argues:

Much of the world–including the parts prone to insurgency–sees things different.  Most often the political system is used by an elite to solidify its hold on power and defend the status quo.  Most insurgents do not seek a better political system but rather one that empowers them or, at least, leaves them alone.  People become insurgents because the status quo does not fulfill their needs.  This is a simple observation with profound implications.  It means that the true essence of insurgency is not political objectives, but unmet psychological needs.

Metz’s bottom line: “Counterinsurgency must be counter-alienation.” Guess that means it’s time to flip the COIN in favor of raising CAIN.